Some data on promotion at my university

In this blog post, I would like to provide some data for my colleagues on promotion at our university. I have heard many different comments in regards to research and publications. However, there appears to be very little data, or evidence beyond anecdotes describing what’s going on systematically. So, I’ve sat down and put this estimate together. The following chart of search “results” for publications was created using our Daily Brief newsletter announcements, and doing searches on Google Scholar.

  Assistant-Associate Professor Associate-Full Professor
Year # Promoted to Associate  MEAN  Results

(Prior 5 Years)

Median # Promoted to Full  MEAN Results

(All Years Prior)

Median
2010 11 2.45 1.00 7 6.28 7.00
2011 16 3.00 2.00 5 6.66 7.00
2012 14 2.00 1.00 1 2.00 2.00
2013 19 2.00 1.00 5 4.50 3.50
2014 19 4.00 2.00 5 12.40 13.00
2015 19 2.00 1.00 10 3.64 1.50
2016 14 2.43 1.00 13 5.90 4.00
2017 13 2.23 1.00 16 12.37 6.00
2018 13 2.69 3.00 6 10.83 12.00
All 2.40 1.00 7.86 6.00

These numbers should be considered estimates, for the following reasons:

  1. Promotion is not only linked to “Scholarly Growth” per our union contract. It includes teaching and service. The numbers to not necessarily suggest a “minimum” needed for promotion.
  2. The above only includes those listed in the Daily Brief, and does not include those who were later promoted through a union grievance, or lawsuit.
  3. Google Scholar under-indexes the humanities, and of-course those in the arts might be in fields where one doesn’t publish to gain tenure or promotion. Also, as publishers put more past material online, sometimes these numbers change.
  4. Google Scholar results used are simple counts. There is no differentiation between books or articles. However, our union contract explicitly states that the evaluation process should use quality over quantity.
  5. At the same time, it should be noted that Google Scholar counts also include book reviews, non-peer reviewed reports, as well as publications in predatory journals. However, it should be noted that there was not a concern regarding predatory publications by our university administration until 2016.
  6. It is important to note that our system separates tenure and promotion to associate professors. This means it is possible to receive tenure and be denied promotion to associate professor. It also means someone can choose not to apply for promotion. Nonetheless, for convenience, I have used results in the 5 years leading up to promotion, which is time time-frame when most faculty will also be applying for tenure. However, in several cases people took longer than 5 years to be promoted to associate.
  7. For data on full professors, I’ve chosen to use lifetime results prior to the year in which the individual was promoted. The range in which people on our campus become full professors range from 3 years, to decades, after they receive promotion to associate. Without direct access to everyone’s CVs, it’s really hard to come up with a perfect way to delimit time-to-full.

In the absence of looking at actual publications (not just results) and creating a more nuanced coding system, I did look at disciplinary fields, and academic unit/college. For instance, our College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) is where most of the traditional “research” fields within the humanities, social sciences, and STEM are located. Looking at that breakdown, we see for promotion to Associate Professor for those in Humanities fields, there was a mean of 2.06 results. For the Social Sciences there was an average of 3 results, and for STEM fields an average 3.97. For promotion to Full Professor in CLAS, we see means of 4.85 for Humanities, 11.63 for Social Sciences, and 10.57 for STEM.

Finally, below is data from our Office of Institutional Research regarding faculty ranks.

What is top-tier?

This blog post is a follow up to my previous defense of scholarly writing and a response to something I have been hearing from some colleagues at my institution– that publishing in top-tier journals is “impossible” for most faculty at my university. In this post, I want to first unpack this problematic assumption and then offer my thoughts on getting work published.

A bit of background: I happen to do interdisciplinary work. What I’ll be addressing might not work for all fields. Also, I am writing this while  at a regional teaching-oriented institution that has a 4/4 course load, where some publishing is required. Despite our faculty collective bargaining agreement explicitly stating quality matters more than quantity, many on my campus would argue that our contract does not offer guidance of how to evaluate quality over quantity. The result has been predatory publishing squeaking through the tenure process in the past, and more recently faculty getting denied due to ill-defined notions of quality.

Getting back to the question of publishing in particular venues – I think that the concern of my colleagues needs to be re-framed in the following ways. What constitutes a top-tier journal? Are we just talking about flagship journals of professional organizations? Are we talking about impact factors and other bibliometrics? Quantitatively, top-tier could mean anything within the first two quartiles of ranked journals in a field – which could account for several dozens of journals that are well cited and publish solid work. However, there are also journals in subfields that are also ranked. Web of Science and Google Scholar have categories beyond traditional/major disciplinary areas. Subjectively, it depends on your subfield. Is it a journal that you have cited in your own work? Is it a journal that publishes work you read regularly?

If I had to provide my own definition, I would say it’s simply a journal that publishes work that fellow scholars in the field recognize and respect.  Usually, this means there’s a correlation with citation counts, but it could be that it is affiliated with a professional association or be with an well known/established publisher. So yes, it’s a broad definition. However, you should always keep in mind what does or does not count in your department/institution as well as your field.

The idea that certain types of publication is “impossible” is dangerous. I think my colleagues mean well. We are a teaching oriented institution. However, this assumption discourages junior scholars from attempting to publish in highly ranked journals that can help grow a career. Indeed, one should always keep local tenure/promotion timelines in mind. However, I personally believe that scholars – especially young ones – should always aim for the best journal their work fits in. It increases the visibility of your hard work. Also it is work that is future proof if the journal is ever acquired by another published.

They key here is that the work is a fit for the journal. Prior to submitting your work to a journal, you need to do your homework. Do you cite articles in that journal? Or authors that have published in that journal? Do you engage in the literature that those who have written in that journal work in? Does the journal publish primarily qualitative or quantitative work?

Indeed, it is harder to get published in some journals than others. However, rejection can be valuable. The best advice I ever got in graduate school on publishing is to have a ranked list of where you would like to publish. If you get rejected from your first choice, you move down to the next one until you get an acceptance. As you move down the list, you will likely get feedback that can help you improve your manuscript and have it published in a well regarded venue.

Finally, for some good tips on publishing see Victoria Reyes’ article in InsideHigherEd

 

Reflections on Higher Ed during APAHM

So it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Increasingly, APAHM and annual events such as the Lunar New Year provoke odd feelings for me. As an Asian-American living in rural Pennsylvania and working in higher education, it can be awkward at times. In Berks County, where I live, the Asian (one race) population is 1.6%. On my campus less than 1% of students identify as Asian. A few years ago, I was asked at a conference if it was difficult being a faculty of color in rural Pennsylvania. I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

Being Asian-American in higher education is complicated. Asians/Asian-Americans are considered “over-represented” in higher education relative to the general population. Even at my institution, 9.1% of faculty are Asian / Pacific Islander, while the Asian population in Pennsylvania is 3.6%. Yet, Asian-Americans are often forgotten as a minority group on and off campus.

Indeed, there is a rationale for the exclusion of Asian-Americans from the category of under-represented minority group(s). In 2015, there were 55,006 doctoral recipients in the United States. About 1/3 of degree recipients are temporary visa holders. Among the top countries origin for visa holders, China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan rank in the top 5 countries. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctoral degrees, 8.7% were Asian-American – compared to 5.6% of the U.S. population. Of course, not all recipients of doctoral degrees work in universities. According to TIAA institute’s look at faculty diversity, 6.4% of all faculty are Asian-American and 2.1% of all faculty are immigrants (born and educated abroad). These two groups are also disproportionately at research institutions and not regional teaching-oriented ones such as my own.

However, this – and other – data tends to fuel the “Model Minority” myth and ignore the real experiences that people have. There are significant cultural and economic differences between different groups of Asian-Americans. The category of Asian includes people with heritage from about 4 dozen countries and many different ethnic groups. As such, the generalization of Asian-Americans as a single category is problematic. Moreover, income data that illustrates Asian-American success ignores the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest poverty rate in New York City, and there are high rates of poverty for many Southeast Asian groups. Asian-Americans are also faced with hate crimes and glass ceilings.

Just as the Asian-American category is problematic, Asian-American over-representation in higher education is not straightforward. It also does not mean an absence of racism, xenophobia, micro-aggressions, and various types of discrimination in the workplace. Take for example, in the life sciences 10.8% of recent PhDs are Asian-American versus the 4.3% in humanities fields. The resulting stereotype of Asians in STEM fields has consequences outside of those fields. For instance, there is a case of a political scientist profiled into teaching statistics. There are also concerns regarding the inclusion of Asian-American studies in curricula, and its consequences for tenure. The absence of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment from history lessons is revealing of the way in which Asian-Americans are still under-represented in higher education. At the same time, there is pressure for Asian-American scholars like myself – who do not work on Asia/Asian-Americans – to do so (stay tuned for a blog post on ‘mesearch’).

In conclusion, I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

In defense of scholarly writing

In this blog post, I would like to defend scholarly writing as well as the academic peer review process. I say this while also being very critical of the process and its inaccessibility. However, I don’t believe we should disregard its strengths.

There are two major critiques to academic writing and publishing. The first involves is the seemingly absurd process of publishing academic work. Submitting a journal manuscript for publication can mean a multi-month to multi-year commitment. Not only is time involved with revision as well as rejection, there are countless horror stories associated with the peer review process. In some fields, it is particularly bad. Editors face headaches as well.

However, if publishing was like the job market, my CV would likely be blank. The double-blind peer review is one of few places in which scholars from less recognized institutions are not judged based on affiliation and who they know. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that single-blind review does have bias toward well-known researchers and institutions. However, they found double-blind review does reduce biased found in the review the process of the journal they examined.

I work at a regional teaching-oriented institution and have a PhD from a middling state institution. I am at a disadvantage not only due to these biases, but I have fewer resources that scholars and doctoral recipients from more well-known schools. Thanks to double blind review in my field, my work has generally received fair evaluations – which includes acceptances and rejections from prestigious journals in my subfield. Certainly, the peer review process can be improved. There are suggestions out there. However, I want to say that the process is not without merits.

The second critique is the inaccessibility of research. On Twitter, I have certainly shared plenty of articles that argue academics need to change the way they communicate their research. This problem is complicated, when academic knowledge is hidden behind expensive paywalls. Many on academic social media have discussed the problem of work that counts (or does not) in promotion and tenure processes and problems with the use of prestige/impact factor. As my colleagues have noted on Twitter, non-academic writing is not valued in tenure and promotion processes. This pushes scholars to put their work in the hands of publishers that are not committed to sharing knowledge.

However, I do not believe it is as simple as saying blogs or other public writing should count. For instance, the American Sociological Association, which I am a part of, released a report called “What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion.” The report essentially calls for context when evaluating public work (see: discussion in Inside Higher Ed).

For me, this context is engagement with the field. There is value in engaging with your peers, just as there is value in work that is aimed at non-academic audiences.  Academic writing – even at non-research schools – is useful in keeping one’s skills up-to-date. Indeed, it is a highly specialized form of communication. However, that is fundamentally what it means to have a PhD and do academic work.

Post-Dissertation Research Trajectory

handwritingAs I write my tenure and promotion application letter that recaps what I’ve done, I’m also thinking a great deal about where my career will be going. Raul Pacheco-Vega has blogged a bit about his own trajectory. So I figured, I’d spend #ScholarSunday (Pacheco-Vega’s creation) doing a bit of writing on my own trajectory.

For some of us PhDs, we have a love and hate relationship with our dissertation. It was our ticket to being called “doctor.” It led to publications that helped us get jobs and advance our careers. However, we are often sick of it (and possibly the topic) once we’ve squeezed what we can out of it. Yet, moving on is hard. I was recently talking to a colleague of mine and she expressed concern about future research once everything in her dissertation was published. Moving on to a new project is often scary and intimidating.

I actually haven’t thought much about my dissertation for the past 2-3 years. My trajectory is (maybe) different from others though. There were a number of ideas that I had when I was starting my dissertation that were not feasible for a number of reasons. As such, I had a U.S. (or California) -centric dissertation on architecture and culture despite being trained in globalization and global cities. After getting a few articles out of my dissertation, I started moving on to a very different area of study. While my recent work on wildfire comes out of a very brief section of my dissertation, it was essentially a new project that required a lot of new research. I basically had to train myself in environmental sociology. Since then, I’ve been working on global urban and environmental issues rather than culture and built environment. Also, visiting Turkey and Ethiopia the last two summers have allowed me to explore new angles to look at the connection between environment urbanization, but in a way, I’m returning to my roots as a Binghamton Sociology trained scholar.

This shift (or return) led to a bit of awkwardness at the American Sociological Association (ASA) meeting last week. When asked what I work on, I struggled to find an answer. I think for the time being, the simplest explanation is that I look at the “intersection between built and natural environments in the U.S. and globally.” Six years ago, if a time traveler had told me that this was my future, I’d have been shocked.

I’m not sure if this trajectory makes me look unfocused, but I think my short attention span and desire to constantly work on different topics keeps my intellectual curiosity strong. Loving learning is what brought me here, and I still get excited when I learn something new. So hopefully, this excitement can inspire many more years of research and writing. After all, I’m still an early career researcher / scholar.